Physicist Presents “Mind-Blowing” Ideas Rooted in Einstein

union college's chad orzel shows einstein's daily influence on our lives

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Despite being known as anti-quantum science, Einstein still contributed to it. His debates with other scientists raised important questions that are still being answered today. A physicist shows how Einstein shapes 2022.

Dr. Chad Orzel on Wondrium set
Dr. Chad Orzel teaches a new Wondrium series designed for non-scientists that focuses on how quantum theory and relativity explain the workings of everyday objects. Photo by Wondrium

Albert Einstein may have been wrong about a few things—including quantum physics—but his studies permeate our daily lives through modern technology. Everything from the red glow on toaster ovens to the communications between cell phones and GPS satellites owes to his work. Tackling a subject this lofty takes a balance of knowledge and clear communication. Wondrium contacted the physicist who wrote the book, How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog, which has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Dr. Chad Orzel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Union College. His new Wondrium series Einstein’s Legacy: Modern Physics All around You clarifies how Einstein’s lifework led to tech in cell phones and cryptography. In an exclusive interview, Dr. Orzel explained how the series came to life.

A Life in Quantum Physics

“My research in graduate school and as a postdoc is basically in applied quantum mechanics—the study of atomic molecular physics,” Dr. Orzel said. “I look at the behavior of ultra-cold atoms colliding with each other and some quantum phenomena that happen in that. It’s really mind-blowing stuff.”

Dr. Orzel said that much of his work in this area is dictated by the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which dictates that no two electrons in one atom can have the same four electronic quantum numbers. Named after its founder Wolfgang Pauli, the principle led Pauli to be nominated for the Nobel Prize by Albert Einstein. Einstein was known for being dubious about quantum physics, but as Pauli studied Einstein’s work in relativity, he helped develop quantum physics, regardless.

This balance of respecting his predecessor’s work while expanding on it informed Dr. Orzel’s books and his new Wondrium series.

Even while speaking with Dr. Orzel via video chat, the foundations that Einstein helped develop came up in conversation.

“This stuff actually manifests in everyday life,” Dr. Orzel said. “If you look at something like the heating element in your toaster oven—that red glow—you need quantum mechanics to explain why a hot object glows that particular color. The digital cameras that we’re using to have this video chat, those work because light has particle nature. We’re able to send these signals back and forth through fiberoptic telecommunication lines because quantum physics allows you to create lasers.”

Everyday Einstein Every Day

Making this information accessible to laypeople is key to Einstein’s Legacy: Modern Physics All around You. In a separate interview, Wondrium content developer Ezra Cooper said that he found the series relatable and easy to understand despite his background in English, rather than science, referring to the series as “uniquely poised for the general public.”

According to Dr. Orzel, this conveyance of information comes from his career as a teacher. Union College is a small liberal arts college in Schenectady, New York. So, although Dr. Orzel teaches to physics majors, he also has students majoring in English and fine arts. He also started running a science blog in 2002, which may not have been the first blog, but it was considered very early—the term “blog” was only founded in 1999.

“One of the things I did there was to start trying to explain physics to non-physicists and talk about not just the core physics but what it’s like to be a physicist,” Dr. Orzel said. “So, I’ve been doing a lot of writing and communicating of science topics, aimed at a broad audience, for a very long time.

“I’ve also just always been a person who talks way too much.”

Einstein’s Legacy: Modern Physics All around You is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily